In an apparent resolution of its Kashmir conundrum, India’s government has annulled Article 370 of its constitution, which offered a special status to the state since its accession to the country in 1947. The annulment delivers on a promise made by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the campaign during the recent elections, at which it was decisively re-elected.
Supporters claim the annulment will integrate the troubled state with India and eradicate the separatist tendencies that have plagued the region. Critics argue that the annulment threatens the very fabric of the constitution and reveals the BJP’s ingrained hostility to India’s federal structure. Far from resolving the Kashmir conundrum, revoking Kashmir’s special status will only deepen the region’s alienation from the rest of India, they argue.
Indeed, by annulling the special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the BJP government has needlessly stirred a hornet’s nest. It is likely to undermine India’s claim over Kashmir, provoke outrage among Kashmiris and spark further tension in a troubled region.
Far from a radical political act, the annulment of Article 370 is akin to barging through an open door. Despite the promises to the state of Jammu and Kashmir upon its accession, since 1947, successive governments have steadily, if gradually, eroded the state’s special status. In its original form, the article allowed the state complete autonomy except in defence, external affairs and currency. In practice, New Delhi whittled down the autonomy of the institutions and shamelessly interfered in the political process, even rigging elections in favour of allied politicians.
The arrest of elected politicians under Narendra Modi is eerily similar to the repeated arrests of politicians under both Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and a pattern Kashmiris will easily recognise. No special status ever prevented successive governments in New Delhi from intervening at will. The revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir resurrects a political compromise that had already been steadily hollowed out.
Nevertheless, Article 370 provided the constitutional basis for India to claim the state of Jammu and Kashmir as its own territory, successfully deflecting claims from neighbouring Pakistan (which, like India, claims the entire state as its own and occupies a part) that it was illegally occupying the province. It offered a stake to Kashmiri politicians to operate within the Indian democratic framework and reject the historically untenable two-nation theory that, by claiming that Hindus and Muslims were two separate nations, had been the basis for India’s painful partition. By scrapping Article 370, the BJP has undermined the constitutional basis for Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India. That it has done so in the name of national unification is a cruel irony.
The annulment of Article 370 is likely to provoke further hostility in the region against India. The new law declares Jammu and Kashmir as a union territory. As such, it is likely to be directly governed from New Delhi, and its legislatures will be able to exercise less power than other Indian states. This transition directly pits the people of Jammu and Kashmir against the Indian government, removing the buffer that had so far been provided by the state’s politicians competing with one another for political office. Ordinary Kashmiris could be even more disillusioned and react against what is commonly perceived as an army of occupation. We are likely to witness a further precipitation of the violence and human suffering that the region’s many communities have suffered since 1989.
India’s relations with Pakistan are likely to be strained even further. The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars over the region since Independence in 1947. Pakistan disputes India’s claims over Kashmir. And now Pakistan is likely to intensify diplomatic and paramilitary measures to destabilise those claims, escalating regional instability.
The BJP’s legislative victory may well turn out to be pyrrhic.
Indrajit Roy is a lecturer in Global Development Politics at the University of York
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